How Far I’ll Go

I recently reached out to a friend who just got married last May. She and her husband were a shining example of godly courtship leading up to their marriage. When I found out that their first kiss took place at the altar on their wedding day, I had to find out how they did it.

We live in a society that pushes a “do whatever feels good” philosophy much like the Greeks and Romans of the early Church times. Paul advised against sexual immorality in several of his letters that comprise the New Testament.

“Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people.” Ephesians 5:3 NLT

“So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.” Colossians 3:5 NLT

“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21

When singles and young people ask, “How far is too far?” I think they’re asking the wrong question. It’s not about dancing as close to “the line” as you can without actually crossing it. It’s about living a life above reproach. It’s about drawing your own line so far back that there’s no way you’d cross any questionable lines or find yourself ridden with guilt.

I used to know a girl that was adamant about maintaining her virginity, but would do absolutely anything and everything sexual with any man except actual, technical sex. What kind of witness is that? Is that purity? Is that maintaining healthy boundaries? I don’t think so. And I’m sure most would agree.

We can all agree that according to Scripture, sex outside of marriage is not God’s best plan. And if we want God’s best for our future marriages, sexual purity is important. But there’s a bit of grey area where God expects us to use good judgment and discernment. It’s up to each of us to decide how far is too far. Therefore, we have to create healthy boundaries long before we find ourselves in a compromising situation.

When I spoke with my married friend, I was pleased to find out the she and her now husband did exactly what I have put into practice myself (yay me!). She said early in the relationship, they had a conversation and drew clear boundaries for physical contact.

For each person and couple, those boundaries may be drawn differently. For me, personally, I know that based on my past struggles and sexual temptations, I can’t even kiss a man on the lips before our wedding day. I’m a single mom, so obviously I’m not a naive, doe-eyed, innocent virgin. In light of that, it may sound extreme to some for me to draw such a stern line. But for me, a kiss can be a slippery slope that leads to more and more until we’re in a place we can’t recover from. I’d rather play it completely safe and not have any grey area. This is something I’ve prayed about and believe God has asked me to do. Again, your line in the sand may be different.

The second tip that my friend gave me was something else I’ve already put into practice (2 points for the win!). She said they set clear boundaries around spending too much time alone together in the late evening hours.

I have a 10 pm curfew. I know not all sex happens after dark, but as a dear friend pointed out, temptation is harder to resist when we’re tired. As attraction and the relationship grows, that time frame and alone time in general may have to be adjusted in order to safeguard ourselves.

Again, this may look different for each person and couple, but the important thing is to focus on how to protect yourself from sin, not how much can you get away with. In a healthy relationship, both parties should be in total agreement on this topic and be able to hold each other accountable. When one has a moment of weakness, the other can be strong and uphold the boundaries. If the lines get blurred, a conversation is definitely in order to re-calibrate.

If you are both chasing after God first and foremost, then your hearts will be in the right place. My desire is that my life and my relationships would point people to Jesus. My heart is to have a marriage one day that is a reflection of Christ’s love and is completely counter-cultural. That begins long before the wedding day! It is always harder to do things God’s way, but it’s always worth it!

My friend reported that because of their decision to abstain, they are enjoying a multitude of God’s blessings in their marriage that made it all worth every sacrifice. That’s what I want someday. I want to be able to say we did things God’s way and because of that, He can bless us abundantly as we chase after His high calling in our life and marriage.

By the way, drawing these boundaries in a seemingly extreme way for protection applies to ALL sin, not just sex. If your struggle is with drugs or alcohol, don’t go near a bar or the people you used to gain access through. If your sin is lust or cheating, avoid friendships with anyone of the opposite gender especially when in a relationship. Avoid any situation that could potentially become compromising. RUN AWAY!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1

Just The Way You Are

In my last post, Waiting For Superman, I talked about having unrealistic expectations of a potential dating partner. This week, I want to address the flip side of that same coin.

No one is perfect. We all know that. We most often use that line in defense of our own flaws or quirkiness. However, in light of grace, we need to accept the fact that our partner will have quirks and flaws as well. Sometimes, they’re things you can live with. Other times, they may not be.

Now I’m not talking about major character defects like lying, cheating, or anger issues. I’m talking about personality quirks like type of humor or small flaws like table manners issue. The little stuff that might be mildly annoying, but isn’t necessarily a deal breaker.

I thank God for small flaws and quirks for a number of reasons. First, they remind me that my partner isn’t perfect, so I can relax and let go of my own perfectionism a bit. It’s almost like I have to see him be human first, then I can let my hair down a little, too. That’s when vulnerability and honesty begin to truly emerge in the relationship.

Second, it often opens my eyes to the bigger picture. I once dated a guy several years ago for a very short period. We attended the same church and he seemed to always have something super spiritual to say or scripture to quote. He expressed interest in me and I thought, “He’s not exactly my type, but what’s the harm in getting to know him a little better.” He seemed nice enough, but after a few times of hanging out outside of church walls, I saw his feet. And that was the beginning of the end. When I saw the horror that was in his summer sandals, I could barely hold it together. Remember the scene in Dumb and Dumber when they had to use circular sanders to file Harry’s toenails? No exaggeration. It was just like that! I was horrified! I thought,”If his foot hygiene was that bad, what else did he not take care of?”

Soon, I started noticing major character defects like a victim’s mentality and no fruit of spiritual growth. I discovered that while he knew a lot of scripture, he lacked the maturity and grounding to apply his knowledge to his life. His deeds did not back up his words. So I quickly severed the relationship. Besides, the raptor toes had to go!

Finally, I’m grateful for quirks and flaws because sometimes, just sometimes, they can have the opposite effect and deepen the attraction. Maybe you discover that you both loved playing super nerdy games as kids like D&D or Magic the Gathering. That could make for a fun date night down the road. Or perhaps you find out that he is really good at woodworking and you’ve been dying to build a bookshelf for your ever growing, insane book collection… Hypothetically, of course. This gives you a project to work on together. Read: more bonding time. Maybe he has a quirky sense of humor that may seem dorky to others, but puts you at ease, because, admit it, you’re a dork, too. Personally, I find it more magical when connection happens over the unexpected little things rather than the obvious.

It is in those moments that recently I have taken the time to thank God for being so detailed oriented. It’s in those little quirks and details that God reveals His perfect plan. He shows his extravagant love by fashioning us uniquely and beautifully. When you find someone who has flaws (not just quirky interests) that match up with yours, you have found something special. Thank God for his faithfulness and extravagant love.

“And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” Luke 12:7 NLT

You Gotta Be

“Begin with the end in mind.”

I’ve heard this phrase, coined by Stephen Covey, used in regard to business. The idea is to start and continue a series of actions with a particular destination in mind. It causes you to pause and ask yourself a series of questions. What is the goal? Are my daily actions getting me closer to the big goal or not? How can I adjust my trajectory in order to achieve the desired result?

Of course all of this makes sense in business terms, but I find this logic can apply in many aspects of life. In parenting, it’s a good idea to step back and look at the big picture. It’s like looking at the roadmap of life to make sure we’re navigating the best possible route to get to the highly sought after destination called, “Responsible, godly adult children.” Are you with me so far? Good.

Lately I’ve been pondering how to apply this logic to my romantic life. Beginning with the end in mind means first determining what the end goal is. Starting at the end and working my way back to where I am now.

I am not trying to just be someone’s girlfriend. My objective is to be a godly wife. 

With that in mind, I conduct myself differently. I don’t date just for fun. I don’t flirt for the sheer attention of it. I don’t fall for flattery. I don’t waste my time on relationships that don’t have long term potential. And I certainly don’t give my heart or body away to anyone. I do build friendships and invest in people. I do chase after the calling of Christ whole-heartedly. I do make sure someone has good, solid, godly character before allowing myself to develop any romantic feelings. I definitely exercise self-control and restraint.

In fact, this mindset has changed a lot of the ways I view dating, too. Personally, I think “dating” according to modern definitions is a farce. It’s not for the purpose of finding your marriage partner, but rather, for the purpose of “having fun” and fulfilling carnal desires. Instead, I adhere to a “courtship” type of philosophy without all the weird legalism. Read more about that here.

I used to date according to societal norms. But it led to frustration and games. Lots and lots of games. There are rules for every situation. How not to scare a guy off. How to appeal to his emotional side as well as physical. How to find the man of your dreams. How to get him to notice you. Blah, blah, blah. Once I realized that my goal was not to “hook” a guy, but is to wait for the man God has for me, my outlook and approach did a 180!

Within that realization, there are several concepts which I will further expound on.

1) My goal is to be a godly wife. I don’t want to just be someone’s girlfriend. I want to be the type of wife that Proverbs 31 describes. That means that in this season of singledom, I am focusing on my relationship with God and actively developing my own godly character. I’m also studying God’s Word and trusted Christian teachings about what it means to be a godly wife. Especially as an independent, single mom, I am allowing God to teach and mold me to be a submissive wife for when that time arrives. And He is faithful to provide plenty of opportunities for learned application!

“Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?
She is more precious than rubies.
Her husband can trust her,
and she will greatly enrich his life.”  -Proverbs 31:10

2) My job is to wait. This one could be a post all on its own (and it may be at some point). Contrary to what society would have us believe, God created man and woman equal but different. As a woman, my job is to hide myself in Christ and wait on the Lord. There’s no need to chase after men or try to get their attention. God will turn my future husband’s attention to me when we are both ready. I have to trust in Him. An exercise in patience is challenging and frustrating at times. But I have learned that running off and doing my own thing results in far more painful consequences. And so I will continue to wait.

“But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.” -Isaiah 40:31

3) My value is in Christ, not what men think of me. People’s opinions come and go. Popularity rises and falls. Men of the world chase folly. I have learned not to care what people think of me. My relationship with the Eternal One is far more important than the shifting whims of men. My Heavenly Father will take care of me up to and including sending the right godly man to my doorstep. I no longer have the desire to be chased for flattery alone.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
but a woman who fears the LORD will be greatly praised.” -Proverbs 31:30

Because of this shift in mindset and Christ-centered focus, I actually don’t get the cat calls and undesirable pick up lines. I don’t get hit on or asked out. Most men either don’t notice me or are intimidated by me. I don’t really care either way, because I am hidden in Christ and focused on that relationship. So maybe I don’t notice them. Regardless, I am content to keep my eyes on Jesus until He brings my Boaz into my life. I am open to love in God’s perfect timing. Until then, I am diligently preparing by cultivating my Ruth-like character. I’m working in the “fields” by focusing on the calling God has placed on my heart and learning to submit to the Holy Spirit in humble obedience.

“Promise me, O women of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles and wild deer,
not to awaken love until the time is right.” -Song of Solomon 2:7

It’s not easy to be patient and wait for God’s timing. But I know full well that the Lord often delivers in a way that is far more glorious than I ever imagined. I know He has a husband chosen for me who will be an even better blessing than I imagine now. He will love me and challenge me. He will lead my family well. And he will be humanly imperfect. We will sharpen and grow each other in faith and character.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”                             -Ephesians 3:20

I Just Died In Your Arms

“Will you be my daddy?” my five year old begged as she looked up at him with her big, hazel eyes. It would have been far more adorable and less mortifying had I actually been in a serious relationship with the man she was soliciting. I could have died. Luckily, the friend in question is a good sport. We all had a good laugh about it.

Kids say the darnedest things. Or so they say. One thing is for sure, it’s never boring! Getting involved with a single parent will surely involve blunders like the one described above. Especially if they have an outspoken, daddy issues laden young child like mine. My sweet girl has longed for a daddy since she went to daycare and saw other little girls being dropped off and picked up by their daddies. To this day, she is on the hunt for her daddy.

My older sister often reminds me that it will take a pretty amazing man to step into our family. And she’s right. But as my mother reminds me, it’s less about a “perfect man” and more about the “right man,” showered with God’s grace.

It’s hard enough to get to know someone when kids are always around, interrupting, playing, climbing, crying, and interjecting obnoxious comments. It can feel very circus-like. And then when mutual attraction is established and ground rules are set, the kids get comfortable enough to ask when the wedding will be or if the potential suitor may henceforth and forever be called, “Daddy.” On the other hand, I have recently acquired the nickname, “Miss Hannigan.” After all of this, if the gentleman is not running for the hills, screaming in terror, we may have something to work with.

Of course, the plus side is that having kids that do not have functioning filters allows me to “separate the wheat from the chaff.” A man who can’t handle reminding my five year old about personal boundaries, probably doesn’t want to get involved with me. And if a middle schooler’s awkward jokes about “K-I-S-S-I-N-G” seem a little too real, he might as well drop out. The guy who makes it past my kids may actually have a shot at getting to know me. Only the strong will survive.

More than that. The man who understands both of my polarized children and how desperately they want to be loved will have a fighting chance. A man of strong, godly character and a willingness to lead this crazy three ring circus would be a special find, indeed. I don’t want someone who just tolerates my kids to get closer to me. Instead, I am waiting for God to send a man who loves my crazy kiddos as much as he cares for me. He will take an interest in them and be willing to not only befriend them, but also lead and guide them. He will see them, not as a hurdle or nuisance, but as part of an adventuresome package deal.

Pursuing a single parent is wild, challenging, and unpredictable. But it can also be so rewarding for the man who is led by God to be the head of a pre-existing household. There is a dynamic already in place that just the right man could enhance and cultivate into something pretty special.

I’d like to hear from the other single parents or former single parents. Comment below with the craziest thing your kid(s) said to a dating partner.

What Have You Done For Me Lately

My dad tends to be a man of few words. But when he says something, watch out. A bomb may go off in your head later. One such conversation occurred between him and me several years ago that has stuck with me to this day.

He said, “So many people enter a relationship looking for what’s in it for them. But a mature (and successful) couple starts with the mentality of ‘How can I serve my partner? And how can we serve God together?'”

That philosophy was like a ticking time bomb in my head. As I pondered his words and observed relationships around me, I realized how absolutely right he is.

Young, immature intentions in a relationship (think high school dating) is very self-serving. When asked why they’re together, the response is something like, “He makes me feel good,” or “She’s pretty.” It has everything to do with what the other person can offer them. But that mentality doesn’t necessarily stop after high school graduation. So many adults go from one relationship to the next guided simply by if it “feels good.”

However, according to my dad, who, by the way, has been happily married to my mom for nearly 40 years, says the key to success is to have a servant’s heart.

“Serve your significant other. Look for ways to bless them. Pray for them more than yourself. Link arms and serve God together in and through your relationship.” This is the wisdom of a man who has exampled how to successfully love his wife well. Almost every time I talk to my mom, she tells me how blessed and fortunate she is to have such a wonderful husband. Life hasn’t always been easy for them. But they have shown each other true love over several decades of life. And I am so fortunate to have such a great example of a godly marriage.

1 Corinthians 13 confirms my dad’s take on what a successful marriage looks like:

“Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 [The Message]

The love described here is selfless and vulnerable. To be honest, it sounds a little scary. If you love like that, you could get hurt. But when two people enter into a relationship in order to embody this kind of love toward each other… Everything changes. It’s pure, unadulterated love of a godly kind.

Read that passage again and imagine what a marriage would look like if both people were striving for that ridiculous, whole-hearted, vulnerable love. Can you imagine the authenticity and fulfillment? It all starts with having the proper heart posture and intention from the very beginning.

Ever since my dad presented this way of thinking, I have contemplated it at every potential relationship. I ask myself, “Am I chasing the feeling? Or is my intention to put him first, respect and honor him, and show selfless love to him?” If my honest assessment comes back as the latter, then I prayerfully consider moving forward. If it is the former, that tells me I need to pump the brakes.

I want a mature, healthy, Christ-centered relationship. Not some self-serving ego stroke or childish love driven by hormones. My mindset and approach are what effects the outcome.

“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 [NLT]

Better Together

Throughout this series on dating with dignity, we’ve been exploring  what to look for in a potential partner and how to date in a way that honors God.

Full disclosure: I am not a therapist or relationship expert. Rather, I am a single person with a bit of experience on the subject, follower of Christ, and an avid observer of human interaction. 

True confession: old me used to treat dating like an application/interview process. I had a list of questions. If the prospect answered the questions correctly, they moved on to the next step. Are you a Christian? Check. Do you or would you go to church? Check. Would you consider yourself to be a decent human? Check.

But checking off a list only created the opportunity to be deceived. A guy would have to have been daft to answer those questions incorrectly. This method is clearly flawed. But it’s used more often than we all want to admit. Internet dating has made it even worse. We rush past the actual getting to know someone phase and substitute a checklist. Then we’re somehow surprised that our partner lied on the “application” in order to get the “interview.”

The better and more effective approach to dating is to simply focus on spiritual growth and self-improvement until a qualified individual presents themselves. Yes, this method requires patience. Especially in the female’s role. But the reward is so much greater.

So once a potential partner shows up and you’ve determined they are of good character and worth getting to know further, then what? What are you looking for within the dating relationship? How do you know it’s God’s best?

And that’s the point, right? I don’t know about you, but I want to know that any romantic relationship I enter into is part of God’s best plan for both of us. I want to walk out a relationship in a way that gives honor and glory to God while being dignified and exhibiting good character. The ultimate goal is to have a marriage that reflects how Christ loves the Church as described in Ephesians 5. So honoring God through our relationships starts long before we say, “I do.”

Here are a few litmus tests (watching for actions, not just a Q&A) that I currently use in my dating life:

  1. They should add value and enrich your life. This should be a no-brainer. What’s the point of being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t bring positivity, value, and enrichment to your life? The opposite of that would be someone who is negative, draining, and energy depleting. That sounds like torture! Conversely, examine if you bring good stuff to your partner’s life. It’s a two way street, kids!
  2. Push you closer to God. In a Christian relationship, this is a huge priority. We should be inspired to grow closer to God and strive to be better humans through our relationship. This should also include the freedom of loving correction once that person has earned a position to speak into your life. “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” -Proverbs 27:17 [NLT]
  3. Encourage you as you encourage/support them. Your spouse should be a source of encouragement. That practice starts way before a covenant is entered into. Emotional and spiritual encouragement is just as important in a dating relationship!
  4. Pray together. This one should really be at the top of the list. Ironically, it has also been the most rare in my personal experience. Keeping Christ at the center of your relationship is paramount. And that’s walked out by not only praying for each other privately, but taking the time to pray together as a couple. So many people miss out on the benefits of inviting God into the center of the relationship. “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”  Ecclesiastes 4:12
  5. Seek God’s purpose for you jointly. This is something I hadn’t previously considered, to be honest. I’ve always known that God has a plan and purpose for each individual. And from a young age, I was told to pray for my future spouse. However, until recently, I hadn’t considered that God could have a purpose to accomplish through a couple. Perhaps there is a ministry or calling that God has in store for you to collaboratively carry out. Or maybe you are to learn something from each other. Pray together and individually for God to give you wisdom and knowledge of His plan for your relationship.

Notice that none of the above can be reduced to a simple Q&A. These are actions and habits created by two people earnestly seeking God at the center of their lives and relationship. If you feel like you have to pressure or coax your dating partner into any or all of the above, you may need to prayerfully reevaluate the quality of the relationship. These may not be deal breakers for everyone, but they do give good insight as to whether or not you’re on the same page in regard to intentions and priorities.

Furthermore, the above list cannot be faked. Consistent pursuit of Christ in all areas of life (especially in dating) requires commitment and fortitude. If a man has less than honorable intentions, he’s probably not going to ask you to pray with him at the end of your phone calls consistently over time. Rather than checking off a list, watch for actions that back up his words.

“A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” -Luke 6:45 [CSB]

How Will I Know

Women especially have been asking the above question since the beginning of time. How do you know if he really cares? How can you tell if it’s really love?!

The reason so many of us have asked the above questions is because we can’t stand the suspense. Am I right? I hate the feeling of not knowing. The endless “what ifs” can plague me to no end! I want all the questions answered and details filled in almost from the beginning of a spark. All that needless worrying does absolutely no good, though. It’s wasted energy.

Something I have learned (very slowly and with much repetition) in all my years of studying the opposite sex as well as studying God’s word is this: All things will be revealed in due time.

If you’ve been following this series on singledom and dating with dignity, you’ll know that finding a partner God’s way is different from the world’s way. We are called to be holy, set apart for His glory. That means we should control ourselves and even behave counter-culturally.

When I get the feeling that someone is interested in me romantically, modern society would say, “Take the bull by the horns. It’s 2017. Not 1950. Ask HIM out. Ask him point blank if he likes you. You’re a strong, independent woman…” And so on.

First of all, there is nothing in the Bible that specifically addresses women asking men out on dates. There’s not even anything in the Bible about dating at all due to the culture and time in which it was written. Dating wasn’t a thing. (I would even argue that “dating” as we know it still shouldn’t be a thing.) The Bible tells us plenty about interpersonal relationships. It spells out clearly how men and women should behave, what love looks like, and what good character is. It even has an entire chapter describing the ideal standard of a woman. If you want to write the ultimate To Do List, read Proverbs 31.

So technically, there is no biblical rule against a woman asking a man out. That is to say I don’t believe it is a “sin.” But it can be a major turn off.

So if a guy is acting like he’s interested, but you’re not getting a clear read, in my experience, it’s one of 3 things:

  1. He’s just not that into you. Harsh. But sometimes true. You might be misreading the signals. If you start chasing this guy, you’ll lose a friend and look desperate. Nobody wants that.
  2. He’s still trying to figure out if he likes you. Ladies, we have intuition on our side. We’ve talked to woodland creatures and daydreamed about the one day when our prince would come. (Or was that just me?) At the very least, you can figure out fairly quickly if you’re attracted to a particular guy. However, that is not how the male brain works. They aren’t as closely in touch with their feelings (not hormones; feelings). They have to analyze and assess. And sometimes it takes them a minute to catch up. If you start chasing this guy, he might get spooked or you’ll force him to make a snap decision that won’t fall in your favor.
  3. He’s waiting for the right time to begin to pursue you. He likes you! And he knows it. At this point, it will be glaringly obvious to most women. But if you’re one of those people who needs all of the answers right now, don’t spoil it. Let him lead. Enjoy the tension (if that’s possible). If you start chasing this guy, you run the risk of him changing his mind.

Bottom line is this: If a good, honorable man wants to pursue you, let him do the pursuing. This kind of man is above board and will let you know where he stands as soon as he figures it out for himself.

Conversely, if a man is clearly flirting with you, but not making an effort to talk to or pursue you and significant time has passed, he’s just stringing you along. Men who string women along for extended periods of time would not be considered men of good character in my book.

Exercise your patience muscle in this situation. If that’s a struggle, then the best thing you can do is hand it over to God and ask for divine wisdom. God will reveal all things in His time. But for the love of everything good and holy, don’t force it.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” Philippians 4:6

Livin’ On A Prayer

“But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Jude 1:20

There is something so powerful about joining in prayer with a brother or sister in Christ. Particularly if you have feelings for that person. It is encouraging and builds each other up in your faith. It also strengthens the relationship by uniting you in spiritual agreement.

When your partner lifts you and the relationship up before God, it shows you their heart. You hear his faith and trust in God. And vice versa. Praying together creates a unique bond and directs the purpose of the relationship. It places Christ at the center of the relationship.

That’s the strong relationship that Ecclesiastes 4:12 is talking about, “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” 

I’ve heard that scripture used in weddings a hundred times. But it’s not a verse only for marriage. It’s talking about any relationship. When I stand in agreement by faith with one of my girlfriends, we have a stronger bond and know how to hold each other up in prayer. Moreover, if you want a marriage with that kind of “threefold cord” strength, why wouldn’t you start laying that foundation from early on in a relationship?

I can tell you from personal experience that the difference between being around a man who has the boldness to pray with you at every opportunity is night and day from one who doesn’t. The unity and spiritual direction of the relationship is directly effected by praying together. I’ve dated Christian guys that said they were praying for me, as I was for them. And that was all well and good. But for all I knew it could have been a token “you’re in my prayers,” with no follow through.

But then when I had a man ask me to pray with him, out loud, together on a regular basis, it was totally different. I could see his heart for God and his desire to put His will before our desires. I could hear the genuine passion and pursuit of Christ. I could feel his longing for the guidance of Holy Spirit.

In a marriage, one of the husband’s jobs is to be the spiritual head of the home. He is to lead the family closer to God and keep them on the right path. The responsibility for the family’s spiritual direction lies squarely on his shoulders. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense to put a high level of importance on spiritual leadership, boldness, and prayerfulness in a suitor? In fact, this quality/character trait has gone straight to the top of my list!

Moreover, because it is the husband’s job to lead the household spiritually, early on in the relationship, I let the man lead the way on this one. I don’t necessarily initiate praying together because I want to see if he will. I definitely participate. But I want a husband who leads, rather than just heeds my suggestions. The best way to get a husband who leads is by allowing your man to lead during the courtship/dating period. It’s important to see the spiritual maturity and leadership in a man long before you say, “I do.” Also, I don’t ever want to put a potential suitor in a position where he has to fake a relationship with Christ in an attempt to win my heart.

I’ve said this before from the pulpit, and I’ll say it here, too: “I want to be so hidden in Christ that a man has to pursue Jesus whole-heartedly in order to find me.” That kind of hunger and passion for God can’t be forced or fabricated.

A truly godly suitor will pursue his relationship with God first and therefore, lead you in prayer when it’s appropriate. Wait for that kind of man. He is a spiritual leader in the making.

Save The Best For Last

The worst part about our modern dating culture is that everyone is fake. Whether intentionally or not, the expectation is to give the best possible first impression. With the introduction of internet dating, it’s even worse. Our society wants to fast forward through the initial process.

We want to quickly assess chemistry and compatibility with a simple swipe to the left or right. Then you meet a practical (if not literal) stranger for coffee or dinner. It’s a sales pitch from beginning to end. Both parties are convincing the other of what a great catch they are. And we’ve all heard or experienced a dose of false advertising: the profile photo isn’t entirely accurate; they said they love the outdoors, but really they’re a couch potato, etc.

After all that rushing and fast-forwarding through the “getting to know you” phase, we’re somehow shocked when we find out the person is not as amazing as they initially advertised. We’re left disappointed and disillusioned. Just another good ol’ “bait and switch.” Trust me, I’ve been there. For a long time, I was a total cynic when it comes to dating.

But, alas, I have discovered the solution to our modern day dating dilemma. I would even venture to say that the vast majority of relationship problems could be solved with this one incredible remedy. Have you guessed it?

It is this: slow down and get to know a prospective partner. It sounds remedial, I know. But in our fast-paced, instant gratification, western culture, we are so busy rushing, achieving, and otherwise careening through life like it’s a race that the concept of slowing down seems almost counterproductive. But if you want to eventually have a marriage that withstands the test of time, you have to lay a strong foundation. And the building of that foundation starts long before even the first date.

As I’ve previously pointed out in other posts, it is so important to take the time to heal your own wounds, develop your own character, and draw close to God. But there are two people in this potential (if not hypothetical) relationship. How do you know you’ve found someone who is equally mature, heading in the same direction, and deeply spiritual? You have to get to know them, of course. And not just in a superficial way that modern dating forces us into.

“But how do you do that?!” I can hear some saying. Rest assured, I’ve asked the very same question. And recently God has provided an opportunity for me to walk it out.

I have a friend. We’ve known each other for over 3 years. He’s been safely tucked in the dreaded “friend zone” for the majority of that time. To be honest, I never considered him as a viable suitor. Until just a few weeks ago. Our friendship has grown a bit over the last month or so. We were slowly starting to spend more time together and swapping stories as friends do in group situations mostly. Then one glorious Sunday afternoon, I had a barbecue at my house with a few friends over. And almost out of nowhere, I noticed that he was looking at me differently. You know, the little inside jokes and nudges, mildly flirtatious comments, and playfulness that can mean only one thing: he is attracted to me.

I must admit, after that day, I was a bit smitten. I never looked at him in that way before. He was always just a friend. But as I took a step back, I realized I already knew his character. He loves God with all of his heart and worships in the most whole-hearted, authentic way. He is gentle and kind. He is respectful of women and would never put me in a compromising situation. He is a student of God’s Word and strives to be a the man God is calling him to be every day. He humbly seeks out mentors and wise counsel within the church.

I know that if we at some point feel God calling us to move forward into a dating relationship, that he will protect me and care for me as a friend and brother in Christ ABOVE any romantic desires. I know he has his relationship with God securely placed in the number one spot on his priority list, as it should be. On the flip side of the coin, I know what his flaws and weaknesses are. I know his testimony and what things have tripped him up in the past. My eyes are wide open as to who he is and what his goals and aspirations are.

However, if we don’t become anything more than friends or decide at any point not to pursue a relationship with each other, we’ll still be friends. Because we both put God first and behave in a way that honors Him, there should never be a reason to avoid eye contact if we go our separate ways.

How can I possibly know all of this? Because we were and are friends first!

Over the course of a friendship, you learn who a person truly is without the sales pitch or ulterior motives. Only time will show you what fruit a person is bearing in their life. As friends, there may be times you can contribute to each other’s spiritual growth as iron sharpens iron. I don’t know about you, but that is something I deeply desire in a spouse.

“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” -Luke 6:45

Be smart about who you choose to get involved with and take the time to really get to know who they are. Don’t just follow what “feels good” as the world does. Wait for God’s best by using discernment rather than letting your emotions drag you around. Choose wisely. It can save a whole lot of disappointment and unmet expectations down the road.

Ready To Love Again

“How has the enemy used fear against you in your life?”

The small group leader’s question took a minute to sink in. As person after person in the group shared their fears and how they’d been affected by them, I contemplated my own fears.

In high school and into my early 20’s, fear of rejection and what others thought of me steered me further and further away from God’s plan for my life. I wanted to be accepted. To the point that I compromised my values and self-worth in pursuit of “love.”

But that was a long time ago. I don’t live there anymore.

As many women do, I have waffled between a fear of not being enough and the fear that I am too much. I’m not enough because every day I fall short of the glory of God. I’m imperfect. On other days, I’m too much. Too loud. Too opinionated. Too silly or too serious.

But thanks to a strong group of sisters around me, I have learned that I am not alone. More importantly, I am a daughter of the Most High King. The Creator made me “just right,” as Goldilocks would say.

As a mom, I have often feared that I am failing. Surely I’m a terrible parent. I lose my cool. I say the wrong things. I react. I’ve read a hundred (seriously more like 94, but who’s counting?) parenting books and talked to every mom I know. And while they all disagree on many topics, the one thing I hear loud and clear is that if I love my children and consistently try to be a better parent, I’m on the right track.

As I processed through these fears I have battled over the years, one of the members spoke up, “I’d like to share about a fear that I am currently facing…” He proceeded to be courageously vulnerable as he shared his fear. Then it hit me: My current and recurring fear. That ugly thing that has stayed just below the surface of consciousness yet always manages to control my decisions.

I am afraid of repeating my mistakes. More specifically, for the last 6 years, I have been afraid of ending up in an abusive relationship again.

I’ve subconsciously kept myself closed off to any long term relationship for fear of being hurt. It hasn’t even been a conscious thought. It’s just a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. If I base my judgement off my past experience alone, I am left feeling nauseous at the prospect of another ride on the roller coaster of abuse. Because all I have known in relationships is abuse and unhealthy behavior. The fairy tale image we’re told as children (though equally damaging) has been completely erased. All hope of a “happily ever after” ending has dissolved.

The revelation of this fear came to me the other day as I shared my story with a girlfriend. I told her that I had recently read an article that said something along the line of, “If you’re not attracting good men [healthy relationships] into your life, it’s because subconsciously, you are not open to love.” The article went on to explain the different reasons we slam the door on love.

Fear is a big one. For all the fears previously stated, I have been sending a “don’t you dare even look at me” signal to the world without even realizing it. Fear of being vulnerable and getting hurt. Fear of rejection. Fear that any prospective partner will see me failing at parenting and bolt. Fear of abuse. Fear of failure. Every relationship has failed thus far. Why would it be any different the next time?

In our small group, we discussed what fear really is. Sometimes our fears aren’t even real, but rather, scenarios we’ve created in our minds. Lies that the enemy has fed us and we’ve adopted as reality.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

The leader then read 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. He posed the question: “What is the opposite of love?” Many of us responded, “Fear!” Wrong. He said, “No. The opposite of love is selfishness.”

Let that sink in. Perfect love is selfless in every way. It’s trusting, kind, not boastful, not envious, and so on. Conversely, fear is rooted in self-preservation. When we go through life thinking we “gotta look out for number one,” we become guarded, fearful, angry. Truly selfless love cannot operate under those conditions.

God’s love is perfect. Every good and perfect thing comes from Him. So if I’m allowing fear to control me, I’m not only blocking an opportunity for a good relationship, I’m blocking God’s selfless love from doing its perfect work in me. Moreover, my fear is only indicative of my lack of faith that God will come through.

If I truly believe that my loving Heavenly Father is working all things together for my good, then I have nothing to fear. He is cultivating me to be a wife just as he is preparing my future husband for me. I have to trust that. I have to trust HIM. God does not want to withhold any good from me (or you) and that includes a godly spouse and healthy marriage.

So tonight, I boldly cast my cares [worry, fear, doubt] upon the Lord for He cares for me and wants only the best for His children. And I declare, “I am open to love in your timing, God.”

I challenge you to do the same. Whatever you’re afraid of, let it go. Give it to God and trust that He has your best interest in mind.